A note from Jessica: The author is a friend of mine, and I am so grateful she’s shared her story. Because of the nature of her work, past and present, her name will be protected. “Lucy” recently returned from four years of working and serving in the Middle East. After returning to the U.S., she began working with internationals here in the states. Thank you for sharing, friend!
American Christians: You’ve Got It All Wrong About The Muslims
There are two sides to every story. Two perspectives. Two ways of looking, reflecting and discerning. But often, we won’t take the time to investigate the opposing side’s views and discover why we might actually be the villain in their story.
Imagine you have just been told you must kill a member of your family.
You know that to resist this action, it would cost you everything. So you reluctantly move forward, participating in a generational tradition you can’t oppose. In a matter of moments, your family has decreased by one life. And although your hands are stained with blood, you are the hero. All is as it should be, but you find yourself fighting between the loss of life, and the victory that is now being celebrated.
I just arrived back in the United States after four years of living and working in the Middle East.
Important fact: I had no concept of the world I was about to call home. I was thrown into the mass chaos of 28 million people living life together in a city consisting of donkey carts, metros, traffic, camels, street dogs, and people. Lots and lots of people.
I spent the last two years in a rural village, which in many ways, was not much different than city life when it came to mindsets and the common worldview. I found it impossible to adapt to either setting. I lived very much as the outsider, being observed in a fishbowl through the skeptical eyes of curious onlookers.
They were equally as strange to me.
However, I was not prepared to change the way I did.
My selfish expectations and habits didn’t work well in that context. I didn’t expect to love the people the way I do. And upon my return to the States, I never anticipated having to fight for my Muslim friends while seeing the way they are portrayed here in the West. Like I said, there are two sides to every story…
And it didn’t take long for me to realize that those four years abroad, to them, I was the bad guy.
Throughout the Middle Eastern world, there is a very common, and devastating, misconception. It is commonly believed that The United States of America is a Christian nation. Within this belief, the understanding is that the moral standing of the USA is a depiction of the morality taught and valued within the church.
So what does that mean exactly? Simply stated, the very practices that Islam is against, America praises…thus Christianity represents. We are seen as enemies who seek to rip them of their moral values, stripping them of their respectful traditions, and ignoring the laws God as set for us to live by. They fear we will pull them out of the reverent traditions they live by, shaming the name of God along the way.
Muslims take their moral codes very seriously. Pre-marital sex, drunkenness, homosexual acts, and immodest dress all go against their teachings. And guess what?
Their window into the West is through the lens of Hollywood…our movies.
When they watch our films, they see the very practices outlawed in their home culture being glorified. This is insulting to them and to their god. They automatically link these actions to the church, thus tainting their view of Christians.
To them America = Christianity.
And it’s not just the movies. Even in our churches, they see our actions as treating God casually. Where we are claiming, “Come as you are,” they can’t get past the bare shoulders and Bibles we place on the floors under our seats. These are the comments I would often hear:
“American Christians don’t treat God with the reverence He is owed.”
“Where is their respect for His holiness? They pray without cleansing first.”
“They believe in three Gods!”
“God doesn’t exist in America.”
When I walked into life as an American woman in the Middle East, assumptions were made about me that I did not have the chance to explain away. “American girls are sex addicts,” they would say. “They want it all the time, haven’t you seen them in the movies?”
As my inner circle of Muslim friends deepened, the comments intensified. They became more comfortable with me, thus more willing to out what they had been told. They wanted nothing to do with my morality…nothing to do with my God. To them, I had no integrity, no reason to be trusted or taken seriously. I found myself hiding the fact that I was a Christian, because I didn’t want to lose their respect before I had a chance to prove myself. It was exhausting.
But this was all they knew. This is what their fathers and mothers had taught them. This is what America had taught them.
About a month into my time living there, I was opened up to the world of honor killings. Different circumstances can bring these about, but they are always for the purpose of restoring honor to a family name. Within an honor-and-shame society, the family’s reputation is more valuable than anything. Everything relates back to where you come from…Everything. When that is challenged, certain actions are required in order to protect the family.
In our village, most honor killings were related to teen romances which went against the cultural expectation and religious belief that sex was for marriage. When pre-marital sex was discovered, fathers were then faced with the village pressure (and years of tradition) to eliminate that sin from the family. Until that member of the family was removed, the whole family carried the reputation of that action.
This places fathers in tough situations where they are forced to kill for the purpose of restoring an honorable reputation for the rest of the family. It is not a revengeful act, rather one required to secure hope. Culture dictates it. They don’t feel they have a choice. Family members converting to a religion outside of Islam will also be at risk for an honor killing. This scares people from ever looking outside of the their family’s belief system.
It would be so easy for us to look at these actions and traditions and judge them. But, as I have learned, WE CANNOT DO THAT. We cannot.
I often have people get really frustrated with me when I defend the honor killings. I am not defending the killing as saying that it is OK, but I’m just saying that it’s more complicated than we realize. It is not the same as a man killing his daughter in a culture where it is against the law. It also is not the same as killing somebody in their society out of anger. It is a terrible thing, and only the power of the Holy Spirit moving in people’s hearts to draw them into himself can change the societies.
So what do we do with this? What do we do with this culture that we do not understand – so dark, so demonically influenced, and so in need of a Savior?
What can we do?
We show kindness.
We stand up for them when they are being spoken against, keeping in mind there is more to the story than maybe we realize.
We pray for those living in the Middle East.
And, we welcome Muslims living in our American cities. Yes, there are more Islamic populations spread throughout American cities than you would think. Hop online and Google search for Refugee Resettlement. Chances are, there is an agency in your city helping resettle Muslim refugees who are trying to make a new life here. They just want to protect their families and give their children better futures as well.
Judging them will not open doors, but gentleness, patience, and kindness will.
Remember – the lens with which you see the world is due to your upbringing, your values, and the influence of your childhood.
So is theirs.
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